A Small Cabin in Wyoming
Copyright 2012 by
When the snow began to fall, Saffron stopped running head on through the snow banks. She’d been plowing nose first into the freshly fallen little mounds, emerging on the other side almost triumphantly. But she’d never seen how these fluffy white hills were created. Now she peered skyward, blinking as a flake landed on her nose. And then another. I watched her face. She appeared to get it, figuring out that if enough of these little white things fell, she’d have another powdery burst through a pile of it. She resumed her foraging and spontaneous explosions through the snow mounds. She was part Stafford Terrier and part Dachshund. She’d been born two years ago in London and through the connection of a friend of a friend, I was able to get her shipped over here. She was the most affable dog I’d ever known and this was her first season of snow.
At the end of the short narrow road we’d turned down, off the larger, plowed main road, was a small cabin I had not noticed before. Affixed to its side like a rock magnet was a large, wide red-brick chimney, starting at ground level and finishing four feet above the roof line. From it poured smoke so thick, it actually made me feel warmer just watching it. The cold air was so crisp that the smoke appeared as if it was a separate entity, a solid white object against the off-white, snow-cloud filled sky. The cabin had a steeply sloped roof and thus far the snow had not stuck to it. Light glowed through the large window carved out of the face of the building.
It began to snow more heavily, even though there was no wind. The flakes came in handfuls, as if tossed from above. Saffron looked quizzical, but blundered on, biting at the air when a large flake drifted by her nose.
Suddenly the front door of the cabin opened and a tall, older, bearded man in his 70s stood there in jeans and a black and red plaid wool shirt, smoking a pipe. His slippers appeared to be suede and were trimmed in soft fur.
“What can I do for you, young man?” he asked.
I looked around. I’d not realized we may have been trespassing. Saffron was perched at my feet, eyeing him curiously.
“Nothing, really. Just admiring your little slice of the earth here. Got your own road, cabin tucked back out of the way. Must be nice and quiet back here.”
He nodded and blew a plume of pipe smoke upward. It smelled like cinnamon and dark rum.
“Lived here about seven years now. Me and Julius,” and as if on cue, a large black Labrador stepped out of the cabin onto the small covered but unenclosed porch. He and Saffron stared at each other, tails wagging.
Julius strolled over and the two dogs went through their sniff routine. Once the olfactory mysteries were solved, they went dashing off around the side of the cabin into the woods, Saffron in vain pursuit.
The man smiled. “New best friends. Come on in, set a spell. Fire’s nice and warm, just brewed a fresh pot of coffee.”
I looked toward where the two dogs had disappeared. I could hear them thrashing about not far from the tree line.
“Come on in, son. They’ll be fine out there.”
I nodded and walked up the two steps to his small porch, stomped the snow and mud off my Herman Survivor’s, and stepped into his toasty cabin. He closed the thick oak door behind me. He set his pipe down on a small plate next to a beautifully-carved wood lamp shaped like vase and sitting on an oak end table, and extended his hand.
I shook. “Andrew.”
He went toward the undersized kitchen. “How do you like your coffee?”
“Cream, two sugars, if you got it.”
There was a sizeable cutout in the wall so one could see through to the kitchen, and from there out to the living room. Jessup looked enormous in the small alcove-like kitchen.
He returned shortly with a steaming mug in each hand. I’d moved in front of the roaring fireplace; a medium-sized, half-moon shaped brick hearth. The heat was so strong I unbuttoned my coat and accepted the coffee.
“Thank you, Jessup. I walk Saffron, that’s my dog’s name, up in these parts three or four times a week, but I’ve never noticed your road before.”
“That’s the beauty of it. Main road’s only about 300 yards, but you’d never know it. Can’t hear any traffic back here. Only pain in the ass is that the town won’t plow it unless I pay ‘em, so I went and got me a good snow blower that works just fine. Plus my jeep has four-wheel drive. I can get just about anywhere, through anything. Me and Julius, we keep to ourselves, mostly. Occasionally go into town for provisions. Could live off the land if I wanted to, but I’m gettin’ kind of old to play Daniel Boone. Even gave up huntin’, but I catch some pretty big trout in the lake over yonder, when it’s not froze over. Got a half dozen ten pounders in the freezer as we speak.”
“I’ve fished over there as well. It’s a beautiful lake, secluded. Haven’t caught any ten pounders, though. What is it, about a mile from the back of your cabin, east of here?”
“’Bout a mile and a half. He gestured toward a maple wood sofa with comfortable looking scuffed brown leather cushions. “Here. Take a load off.”
We both sat. Jessup was a large man who looked like he could easily still play Daniel Boone. A flat stomach, an athletic gait and huge, knobby hands that looked quite serviceable. He had a full beard and a full head of dark hair, and his eyes were also dark and very expressive.
He looked to be about 75.
His coffee table was oak, like the door, and his easy chair in the corner, fronted by a sizeable ottoman and facing the hearth, was also made from oak. “Your furniture looks handmade.”
“Most of it is. Not by me. I know a guy on the other side of the lake that makes me stuff on request. Got a rocking chair due in about two weeks. Can’t wait for that one. I like rustic stuff, as you can probably tell.”
There was a loud scratching at the door and Jessup got up and let the dogs in. They were both breathing heavily. Julius went to the front of the fireplace and immediately plopped his ponderous bulk down with a heavy sigh. Saffron hesitated, and then curled up next to him. They were asleep in about one minute. Both dogs had snow sprinkled on their coats.
“What do you do, Andrew, if you don’t mind me askin’? Young fella like yourself can’t be retired just yet, I suppose.”
I chuckled. “I wish. No, I’m a writer. I live about three miles from here, closer to town. Not as isolated as your setup here, though I wish it was. My place is similar in size to yours, though your furnishings are far more apropos than mine. Got a nice big screen TV, though. I moved to Wyoming about six years ago, when I turned 30.”
Jessup grinned. “When I was 30, I was on my second tour of duty over in Saigon. I was the oldest soldier in my outfit. And one of the few white guys. Saw a few teenagers die over there. Very sad stuff.”
“You got any kids of your own, Jessup?”
“Yes sir. Two boys. Not as close with ‘em as I’d like, I suppose. Both live out in northern California, to be closer to their mom. Louise and me been divorced about 15 years now. Pretty amicable split, I would say. We lived about 100 miles north of San Francisco. Both the boys went to school out there and then settled in the Bay Area. Louise lives in Marin. I try to get out there once a year, but sometimes I can get the boys to come see me here. What about you?”
I shook my head. “Nope, never been married.”
He nodded knowingly. ”Thought so.”
“Really? What made you assume that?”
“You get up into your 70s, young fella; you learn to trust your gut. You got ‘solitude’ written all over you, so to speak.”
“I’ve had a rough week so far with the writing. My book has kind of stalled.”
“What’s it about?”
I got up from the couch and walked over and stood above the dogs, feeling the warmth from the fire. I turned, “Should I throw a couple more logs on, it’s starting to burn down?”
He nodded. “’Course.”
I did, choosing two thick pieces from the wood stacked neatly in a square copper pan next to the fireplace, and then stoked the bottom embers with the poker from the nearby wrought iron set.
I returned to the sofa. Neither dog had stirred or even acknowledged my presence with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m trying to write my memoir.”
“At 36? You done enough livin’ to justify that?”
“It’s been a busy 36 years, Jessup. Lots of mountains to climb.”
I sighed. What the hell.
“My dad killed my mom and my older sister, and then shot himself. About seven years ago. In Los Angeles.”
“Where were you?”
“In L.A. I found the bodies on Christmas morning when I went to visit my mom. Merry Christmas, huh?”
He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “How old was your sister?”
“Thirty six, same age that I am now.”
“Is that what made you come all the way out here, in the middle of nowhere, to Wyoming?”
“I had to get out of L.A. I wrote a screenplay while I was there that sank like a stone. Hollywood is full of disingenuous assholes. Everywhere I turned I saw failure; professionally and personally. I couldn’t escape the memories. I was very close to my sister. She was unmarried, as well.”
“I’d driven through this state a few years before, on a trip across the country. I found it achingly beautiful. And about as far from L.A., culturally, as one can get.”
“That’s a good thing, Andrew.”
I grinned and nodded. He stood, took my mug and went to the kitchen. He returned with the refills. I noticed Julius watched him every step of the way.
“Thanks,” I said, sipping the delicious strong brew.
“What part of your story has you bogged down?”
“Good question. I’ve been tempted to make the main character, me, married with a family.”
“That’d make it a novel then, wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah it would, which is OK. I don’t want to be bound by total adherence to facts. I don’t have all the facts, anyway.”
He leaned back and put his arm up along the back of the sofa cushions. He sipped his coffee and looked thoughtful. Saffron got up suddenly and came over to me and rested her chin on my thigh. I scratched her gently behind the ears.
“Well, there certainly appears to be a story there, if you can tell it.”
I nodded. “Indeed. Big ‘if’, however.”
Saffron returned to the warmth of the fire and Julius’s bulk.
“Were you close with your dad?”
“I was not. He and mom had split up. Well, she’d left him. My sister Janice sided with my mom, as did I. I’m sure dad was hoping I’d be there at moms that morning, as well. He felt betrayed by all of us.”
Jessup sat quietly, watching me. There was a pop and then a hissing sound from the fire as sap dripped out of a log. All four dog ears went to point, and then curled back down.
“Well, that is quite a mountain to climb, Andrew, I’ll give you that. Do you think writing about it is going to help you? You know, like cath…cath…”
“Catharsis? Yeah, I do think that might be the case. At least I hope so.”
“Not so far, though, is it?”
“May I suggest something?”
“Sure, why not.”
“Keep it real. At least with your character. No imaginary wife or family. Write what you know about. I think Hemingway said that.”
“He did. And that’s good advice. Thanks.”
I got up and gave a low whistle, which brought Saffron on the run.
I put my hand out and Jessup rose and took it.
“Thanks for the coffee and the conversation.”
He grinned, letting go of my hand. “You and Saffron stop by anytime. There’s always a fire and usually coffee. Or if it’s closer to drinking time, I got the stronger stuff as well.”
“We will do that. Thanks again.”
As Saffron resumed her cannonball blasts through the now freshened snow banks, I turned as I walked back up the road and could make out the silhouette of Jessup through his large front window. There was a muted yellow glow. He’d lit his pipe. He raised his right hand and waved. I did the same, turned and headed back on up to civilization.